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Hempstead urges OK for $208K ‘special request’ to fix up Norwalk City Hall Community Room

Joint mall committee Norwalk 15-0316 001

From left, Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D), Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and Councilman John Kydes (D-District C) greet the public recently in the City Hall community room.

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposal to fix up City Hall’s community room – a “special request” in the next capital budget – finally has some support after months of disrespect.

The $208,000 expenditure has not been recommended for funding in the 2015-16 capital budget by Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, a recommendation that has been validated by Planning Commission members and Mayor Harry Rilling. But on Monday, Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) exhorted his fellow Council members to give the Department of Public Works the money.

“It has now become, outside of our Council chambers, the (second most) used room that we have,” Hempstead said. “It’s very dated. The acoustics are terrible in there. You can’t hear anything, there’s no visuals, there’s no anything.”

The desire to refurbish the community room – new lighting, new audio/visual system and an upgrade of the kitchen equipment – drew a tepid response in early February from Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Frances DiMeglio.

She said she could understand wanting new chairs and refurbished wood, but “Why the kitchen?”

“That was a special request, Fran,” Alvord said. “We are responding to special requests.”

“How did this come up?” she asked.

“A special request,” he said.

“OK,” she said, giving up. “In this austere budget season. OK.”

The proposal was criticized a few days later by Diane Lauricella at the Commission’s capital budget public hearing. “I did not read anything about how we would be able to increase our rentals of this room if we had a kitchen that was more modern,” she said.

“The only thing I can say about the community room is we were asked to put that in and we did,” Alvord said.

On Monday, Hempstead said he asked to put it in the capital budget.

“We have hidden gems behind all those little pin boards that are in there. Those are actually bookshelves. You’ve got to remember that was the high school library,” Hempstead said. “… I think it’s a golden opportunity for us to display some of Norwalk’s historical stuff, behind glass in those book shelves. I have been in enough town hall community rooms where they do a lot of that and we have none of it.”

The old Norwalk High School was constructed in 1936 and the library was redone into the City Hall community room in 1987, he said.

“It’s 30 years, folks,” Hempstead said. “We have to start pumping some money into the building. I would like to see that get funded in some way.”

Alvord referred to Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio.

“Karen, if I remember correctly, told me she has found something about the audio system down there, and found some ways to improve the acoustics,” Alvord said. “The basic acoustics in the room are terrible to begin with. But I believe they have done some work on the mic system.”

“We have enough hearings in there, because the Council chamber is full,” Hempstead said. “It’s time to bring that room up to the 21st century – the 20th century actually, the end of at least the 20th century. We haven’t put any money in that room since it was opened and, I was just talking about it, we do get rentals from that. That is income producing, obviously not enough.”

Alvord said there are rental rates for the room, but, “We don’t always collect.”

“That’s a hint, folks,” Hempstead said. Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) replied, “The thing is that violin that goes with it when they are telling that story.”

The conversation moved on.

9 comments

Bill March 31, 2015 at 11:31 am

So we have $208k to fix a room at city hall, but we can’t come up with $25k to pay mentally disabled people minimum wage to keep SoNo from looking like a dump?

How ridiculous are our priorities these days.

Townie March 31, 2015 at 5:45 pm

This is a nonsense of a request for funds. Doug Hempstead should be embarrassed. Why doesn’t he establish a “Save the Room” committee to solicit donations. I would be glad to drop a five or a ten in a contribution can if it were placed outside City Hall.

EastNorwalkChick March 31, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Once again not only does Alvord get what was approved this year for Capital budget, he is getting another one of his “special requests” thus getting what he wants without going over his budget….No other department does this to my knowledge.

Jill St. John March 31, 2015 at 7:39 pm

ridicules! typical, if no one pays attention to the “little stuff”(sarcasm font needed)I was just in that room a couple months ago, what is so dreadful about it? If in fact it needs funding, make it privately sponsored, give whatever corporation or business who donates recognition, a gold plaque on the way whatever, but STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY WALLET!

Piberman March 31, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Our admired Council at its best. Maybe a few bucks to study downtown traffic congestion at the mall. Nah.

Mark Chapman March 31, 2015 at 9:35 pm

@NorwalkVoter

We confirmed it was Doug Hempstead who made the special request.

@EastNorwalkChick & Bill

The mysterious “special request” whose origin is no longer a mystery has not been approved at this time.

Mike Mushak April 1, 2015 at 10:59 am

It’s a beautiful room, but could certainly be better. The heating and cooling is hard to control, and the windows don’t open. I never had a problem hearing people when the mikes worked, but I recall times the mikes didn’t work for whatever reason, and that was annoying. Maybe someone didn’t know how to work the system? Parks and Rec has a great carpenter on staff, but I think they may be busy with Fodor Farm. Perhaps some work could be done in house.

The kitchen seems fine to me. I recall a comment that the city does not charge to rent the room but could. It seems it needs more study first, and if we want a catering facility there with a better kitchen that will generate income for taxpayers, like the concert hall does, then lets study it and see it that is viable. Without a study revealing all of the various options, even if it is in-house, it seems premature to talk about renovations.

I would feel better if it was a project that had a return on investment, in terms of improving public safety, reducing traffic, or attracting new residents and businesses that increases property values. All things the “Clay Street Improvement Project” does (which was much more than heated staircase, although LWitherspoon’s comment above takes the prize for funniest one today!), as well as the NRVT project that is leverage for $2 to 3 million in grants.

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